Blog-post author Sebastian Sobecki, Professor of Medieval English Literature and Culture, University of Groningen NL
The Latin narrative of Saewulf’s voyage to the Holy Land in 1102 is so significant because his account of Jerusalem is one of the first to have reached us after the city’s conquest in 1099 during the First Crusade. His report is therefore a remarkable snapshot of emerging Crusader Jerusalem – not unlike the Western rediscovery of this region through the industrial lense of the daguerreotype images from 1844 shown here – these are some of one of the first photographs taken of Jerusalem.
Saewulf’s report forms part of a small group of pilgrims’ accounts that mark the beginning of European an explosion in the production of itineraries and guidebooks to Palestine. His account and material practices therefore represent a notable point of comparison for accounts written by later pilgrims. Yet despite the significance of this text, little attention has been paid to Saewulf as a writing pilgrim.
This otherwise unidentified Englishman has left behind a remarkably detailed and informed account of his travels to Palestine and back. His voyage came only three years after the Crusaders’ conquest of Jerusalem, when demand for pilgrim transport was so high that he could not find a ship in southern Italy to cross the Mediterranean. Instead, he had to settle for an arduous coastal voyage along the Adriatic and through Greece.
In July 1102, Saewulf sailed from southern Italy for Jaffa, while his return voyage took him to Ereğli in Anatolia, where his narrative breaks off in September 1103. We do not know, for that matter, whether he himself indeed returned to England. The text of Saewulf’s only known work has survived in a single manuscript, Cambridge, Corpus Christi College MS 111, a vellum and paper codex formerly owned by Archbishop Matthew Parker. Saewulf’s Latin text has been written out in a twelfth-century hand and occupies pp. 37 (second column)-46 (second column). Nothing else is known about Saewulf, though he may have been the merchant Seuulfus of Worcester mentioned in William of Malmesbury’s Gesta pontificum Anglorum.
I first came across this intriguing text when, many years ago, I surveyed insular works that engaged with the sea and maritime elements. Saewulf, despite his dedicated focus on spiritual destinations, offers two well-crafted voyage tales full of lively glimpses of a long-distance pilgrim’s life on the road: the account of his actual voyage to the Levant and back includes details that at times turn him into a proto-tourist, an engaged beholder of the strange world around him. Recently I returned to Saewulf, when annotating the text in translation for an anthology Anthony Bale and I are editing (Medieval English Travel: An Anthology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018)). Our text is essentially a slightly updated and modernised version of the serviceable translation Thomas Wright published in 1848 in his milestone anthology Early Travels in Palestine.
Although our text is based on Wright’s translation, unlike R.B.C. Huygens’ modern edition of the Latin text in the Corpus Christianorum series, we have decided to gloss every place or locality, event, individual, and textual reference. As a result, I worked on the text with a map at my side, and it became clear to me that we can learn a great deal more about Saewulf’s library and his use of material sources during his visit to the Holy Land.
Most scholars believe that Saewulf’s account actually consists of three elements, that is, a guidebook to the Holy Land that is bookended by Saewulf’s reports of travelling to and returning from Jaffa. While the two voyage narratives are thought to have been written or dictated by Saewulf, the embedded guidebook is usually assumed not to have been his work. And there seem to be good arguments for this surmise: unlike the first and third parts of the narrative, the guidebook is not written from a first-person perspective. Most of the guidebook’s passages are indeed impersonal, and many are derived from its primary source of information on Palestine, Bede’s eighth-century De locis sanctis / On the Holy Places. And there are further parallels between the guidebook embedded in Saewulf’s report and three existing texts of the same genre, commonly referred to as The First Guide, Qualiter, and The Ottobonian Guide, all three of which are roughly contemporary with Saewulf’s text, though in all probability precede his guidebook by less than a handful of years or even months.
But on closer inspection, these guidebooks are much shorter than the report embedded in Saewulf; in fact, his text is longer and more detailed than all three of them put together. There is, I should add, no evidence that any of these three surviving guidebooks have been read by the author of Saewulf’s guidebook; on the other hand, the many verbatim echoes and details of Bede’s On the Holy Places clearly served as the basis for the text of Saewulf’s guidebook. On closer inspection, though, it seems to me that it was actually Saewulf who modified the existing guidebook (or a copy of Bede’s text) on-site in Palestine. The arrangement of his guidebook is such that, in the case of most paragraphs, a line or two with broad directions and biblical detail opens the account of a particular location, but this is then often followed by a contemporary update or impression. For instance, when introducing Jericho, Saewulf’s guidebook mirrors the skeletal account in the Ottobonian Guide by sharing with it the information on distance to Jerusalem and the reference to Elisha’s fountain before inserting a sentence not found in the Ottobonian Guide or in Bede for that matter: ‘The plain is indeed beautiful wherever you look’ (John Wilkinson, Joyce Hill, and W. F. Ryan, Jerusalem Pilgrimage 1099-1185 (Hakluyt Society, 1988), 109). Similarly, the description of Bethlehem opens with a sentence found in the Qualiter guide and contains information from Bede, before Saewulf’s guidebook adds: ‘Nothing habitable is left there by the Saracens, but it is all ruined, exactly as it is in all the other places outside the walls of Jerusalem’ (Jerusalem Pilgrimage 1099-1185, 108). Again, the same occurs when Saewulf’s embedded guidebook describes Nazareth. The prefatory material is mostly sourced from Bede, but then Saewulf’s text inserts the following update: ‘But the city of Nazareth is wholly ruined and all pulled down by the Saracens’ (Jerusalem Pilgrimage 1099-1185, 110).
To my mind, the emerging pattern is one of almost interlinear blocks where the authoritative biblical identification of a place is sourced from Bede, with Scriptural support, only to be followed by eyewitness corroboration and, more often than not, the contrasting contemporary state of dilapidation of the respective place. Using Ockham’s Razor, there is no reason to suppose that this latter information has been provided by another traveller who had just seen Palestine after the end of the First Crusade in time for Saewulf to have obtained access to this new knowledge. Instead, the guidebook section as it stands now was most probably updated and written by Saewulf himself. The specific pattern that I have described strongly suggests, in my opinion, that Saewulf had copied out from Bede and perhaps from another guidebook the basic and very brief identifications of the most important places in the Holy Land, to which he then added concise information on site. The brevity and conciseness of both components suggests a portable text, most likely a vellum quire, bound or otherwise.
Saewulf’s reading was of course wider than just Bede, and betrays a solid grounding in the Bible and patristic literature, primarily Jerome and some Augustine. I don’t want to speculate here whether Saewulf or someone writing for him had had access to a library in Palestine, so soon after the First Crusade. It is rather more likely that any such information, and access to physical books, came after his return to England. This includes consultation of the Vulgate, Jerome’s Sentences and his Liber de situ et nominibus locorum hebraicorum, as well as Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy. But the manner in which Saewulf has modified the information his guidebook shares with Bede and similar texts may suggest that he took notes on site, and that he had with him a physical booklet into which he inserted his own additions.
The second observation I have made when annotating Saewulf’s account is that he inverts east and west on a few occasions. However, this only occurs when describing places outside of Jerusalem and when he introduces material not found in his sources and analogues. For instance, his topography of the wider area of the Sea of Galilee is confused. Saewulf does not say in which direction Galilee lies; he only states that it is three days from Jerusalem which corresponds to the information given in the First Guide. But Saewulf believes that Galilee is not only a lake but also a city, clearly departing here from his main source, Bede, and other surviving early guidebooks. More importantly, he places Nazareth east of Mount Tabor, on the sea of Galilee, instead of its actual location west of the mountain.
Saewulf’s difficulties arise with larger scale directions that involve travel planning. Locations within walking distance or those that he had actually visited are usually correctly placed. Once he reaches Nazareth, his description is relatively detailed and precise:
The city of Nazareth is entirely laid waste and overthrown by the Saracens, but the place of the annunciation of our Lord is indicated by a celebrated church. A clear fountain bubbles out near the city, still surrounded, as formerly, with marble columns and blocks, from which the child Jesus, with other children, often drew water for the use of his mother. From Nazareth we proceed about four miles to the east, to Mount Tabor, on which the Lord, having ascended it, transfigured himself openly before Peter, John, and James. The mountain is covered in an extraordinary manner with grass and flowers, and rises in the middle of the green plain of Galilee as to exceed in altitude all the mountains which, though at a distance, surround it. On the summit still remain three ancient churches.
Another example concerns the monastery of St Saba. Writing about its location, Saewulf says that:
About three miles to the west of the church of the Holy Cross is a very fine and large monastery in honour of St Sabbas, who was one of the seventy-two disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ. There were above three hundred Greek monks living there, in the service of the Lord and of the Saint, of whom the greater part have been slain by the Saracens, and the few who remain have taken up their abode in another monastery of the same Saint, within the walls of the city, near the tower of David, their other monastery being left entirely desolate.
Mar Saba, the Holy Laura of St Sabbas the Sanctified, is actually in the West Bank, that is, in the opposite direction. Saewulf’s inversion of east and west could of course be accidental, the result of sloppiness or – worse – a cultivated lack of interest. However, throughout his account he endeavours to be reliable and accurate, especially where it concerns topographical detail, so such a series of mistakes would be uncharacteristic of Saewulf’s style. Furthermore, the pattern that emerges is not one of random mistakes, but of an inversion of the cardinal directions. East does not become north or south; the confusion is always an inversion. Even his phrasing of the location of Bethlehem six miles to the south of Jerusalem is sufficiently unclear to have made Thomas Wright translate the sentence by assigning to Bethlehem a northern direction.
Given this pattern, I would like to propose the possibility – offered here with all due caution – that Saewulf may have seen a map of the region with a southern orientation. I understand that this is a speculation, and I do not wish to estimate its probability here. We could of course point out that since the T-O world maps common in Latin Christendom were oriented toward the east, Saewulf would have needed to see a map with a western orientation in order to be diametrically confused, as it were. But T-O mappae mundi were either skeletal when they travelled in books – usually in copies of Isidore’s Etymologies – or they were enormous presentation objects displayed in selected cathedrals – in any case, they were not meant for travel, much less for travellers. Mediterranean and coastal travel relied on portolan charts, maps of ports and coastal landmarks to enable cabotage. Such maps were virtually exclusively oriented toward the north. Saewulf’s long and arduous voyage across the northern Mediterranean and Greece is detailed – so much so that it is usually considered to be the highlight of this entire account; aboard multiple vessels, Saewulf would have been able to view and study such maps. On arriving in Palestine, he had therefore the same geographical orientation as we do now – expecting a northern-oriented map. Seeing the opposite – a southern-orientation map – would explain his inversion of the cardinal directions.
As many of you will know, the majority of Islamic maps of the world – especially those following the Balkhi school, recently re-named the KMMS model by Karen Pinto – are oriented toward the south [examples of such maps can be found here: Al-Idrisi’s Tabula Rogeriana, prepared for Roger II of Sicily only fifty years of Saewulf’s text, is also oriented toward the south:
No satisfactory explanation has been found for this phenomenon, though the most likely reason lies in pre-Islamic Arabic tradition, perhaps reinforced after the conversion to Islam by the location of Mecca and Medina in the southern part of the Arabian peninsula. As with Latin T-O or Beatus maps, it is not likely that Saewulf would have seen such learned books. Furthermore, KMMS-type maps share their macro-level zoom with T-O maps, and save for continents, some countries, and select cities, there is hardly anything of topographical relevance or use for Saewulf. However, more applicable and relevant were maps of the Levant and the Arabian peninsula, often designed for Muslim pilgrims on their way to Mecca. These maps were of the simplest kind, essentially not much more than itineraries superimposed on a rough geometrical shape. They were, however, oriented to the south. [I am specifically thinking here of the maps reproduced on pp. 118 and 124 in Gerald R. Tibbetts, ‘The Balkhi School of Geographers,’ in J.B. Harley and David Woodward, eds., History of Cartography, vol. II, Book 1: Cartography in the Traditional Islamic and South Asian Societies (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1992), pp. 108—36 – viewable here:
We know that knowledge of Arabic was more widespread throughout the Crusader kingdom than was once assumed, and although the early Kingdom of Jerusalem was not a Cordoba or a Naples, there was nevertheless pragmatic exchange, and there were certainly Arabic-Latin translators (even the grossly exaggerated Middle English romance Richard Coer-de-Lyon has ships with translators – Latiners – on board). Simple itineraries or regional maps must have been valuable, and in the first months after the conquest of Jerusalem such maps, either drawn in Arabic or in Arabic and Latin, may have provided a useful tool for a pilgrim such as Saewulf.
 Saewulf’s routes are discussed in John H. Pryor, ‘The Voyages of Saewulf’, in Peregrinationes Tres: Saewulf, Iohannes Wirziburgensis, Theodericus, ed. R. B. Huygens, CETEDOC (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 1995), 33–57.
 These texts, together with Saewulf’s account, are available in modern translations issued by the Hakluyt Society: John Wilkinson, Joyce Hill, and W. F. Ryan, Jerusalem Pilgrimage 1099-1185 (Hakluyt Society, 1988).
 From Bale and Sobecki, ed., Medieval English Travel: An Anthology, forthcoming.
monastery: Mar Saba, the Holy Laura of St Sabbas the Sanctified, is in the West Bank. Saewulf confuses east with west here.
St Sabbas: St Sabbas the Sanctified (d. 532), Cappadocian-Syrian monk. Saewulf appears to be thinking of Cephas of Iconium, one of Christ’s seventy or seventy-two disciples.
another … Saint: the metochion or branch of Mar Saba was indeed near the Tower of David (personal communication from Andrew Jotischky).
 From Bale and Sobecki, ed., Medieval English Travel: An Anthology, forthcoming.
 Karen C. Pinto, Medieval Islamic Maps: An Exploration (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016).
Blog-post author: Dr Mary Boyle, Irish Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow, Maynooth University IE
The co-opting, or re-presenting, of other pilgrimage or travel texts is an integral aspect of pilgrimage writing. This doesn’t mean that pilgrim writings are simply generic – in fact this essential repetition could be seen as getting to the heart of the practice by re-personalising the words of another. The words have become part of the new account, while the repetition itself is crucial in validating the experience. Conformity denotes authenticity. With the advent of print in the second half of the fifteenth century, it was easier and faster than ever to ensure this conformity. One chain, or web, of pilgrimage accounts, stretching at least from Nuremberg to Norfolk, via Mainz, Cologne, Koblenz, and Kent, and covering German, Latin, and English, illustrates the opportunities offered in this area by the new technology.
The key printed accounts are Hans Tucher’s Reise ins Gelobte Land, Bernhard von Breydenbach’s Peregrinatio in terram sanctam, and the Pylgrymage of Sir Richard Guylforde. Associated manuscript accounts include Peter Fassbender (or Fasbender)’s Betuartt nahe dem heiligen Grabe zu Jerusalem and the Pylgrymage of Syr Rychard Torkyngton (usually now spelt ‘Torkington’), as well as the Pilgerfahrt des Ritters Arnold von Harff. The connection between most of these accounts comes as no surprise, but it’s nonetheless worth looking at and considering what it means for these men’s written experience of pilgrimage, and how that was affected by print. These accounts span the period 1479-1517, and the sections which made it all through this chain belong to the heart of the pilgrimage: the holy places.
Hans Tucher (1428-91) was in the vanguard of German published pilgrims. He travelled from Nuremberg in 1479 with Sebald Rieter (1426–1488). Rieter also produced an account which is in places so similar to Tucher’s that it’s not clear which sections originated with which man, although it’s probably safe to assume that the Rieter family’s accounts of previous pilgrimages were consulted. Rieter’s account, however, wasn’t printed until the nineteenth century, whereas in 1482, Tucher’s appeared from the press of Johann Schönsperger in Augsburg. Over the next two years it was reprinted several times.
Bernhard von Breydenbach (c. 1440-1497) needs little introduction. A canon of Mainz Cathedral, he departed on pilgrimage in 1482. Publication must have been in his mind from the start, for he took an artist with him to Jerusalem. It took around three years for Peregrinatio in terram sanctam, which he misleadingly described as a ‘bůchlyn’ (little book), to reach the press. This work drew on a large number of other texts, of which Tucher’s was only one. In 1486 it appeared in Latin (February), and then in German (June). It wasn’t long before it had been translated into Flemish, French, and Spanish as well.
Only part of Peregrinatio made it into English (from Latin), and it didn’t do so attached to Breydenbach’s name, but as part of the Pylgrymage of Sir Richard Guylforde, which was printed in 1511, four years after the pilgrims’ return. Guylforde himself, though, had died shortly after arrival in the Holy Land. Until 2013, the identity of this account’s anonymous author was unknown, but he has now been identified by Rob Lutton as Thomas Larke, the man whose book on Jerusalem was recommended by Robert Langton, when his pilgrimage ‘to saynt James in Compostell and in other holy places of Crystendome’ was printed in 1522.
By virtue of being printed, these texts were widely distributed and able to influence other accounts in turn – we will probably never know how many. I’d like to outline some examples of manuscript accounts which borrowed from this tradition on the way.
Firstly we have an offshoot midway through the chain: Peter Fassbender (c. 1450-1518), a Jerusalem pilgrim from Koblenz in the Rhineland. When he returned, Fassbender produced an account of his 1492 pilgrimage, which survives in only one manuscript. This certainly draws on Bernhard von Breydenbach, and perhaps also on Hans Tucher.
At the English end of the line, we have Richard Torkington, a priest from Norfolk, who wrote a manuscript account of his pilgrimage in 1517. This work is heavily indebted to Larke’s, and wasn’t printed until 1884, when it managed to obtain the title Ye Oldest Diarie of Englysshe Travell.
Image 3: Greeks in the pilgrimage account of Arnold von Harff. Source: Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MS Bodl. 972, f. 53v. Photo: Mary Boyle, courtesy Bodleian Libraries.
Image 2: Greeks in the pilgrimage account of Bernhard von Breydenbach (f.77v). Source: Münchener DigitalisierungsZentrum, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
I’d also like to point to the knight Arnold von Harff (c.1471-1505), a knight from near Cologne, because his use of Breydenbach is quite different from Fassbender’s, Larke’s, or Torkington’s. He took little from the descriptions of holy sites, but he drew inspiration from Breydenbach’s images and alphabets, as well as some text. Harff’s account circulated after 1499, along with a set of illustrations, amongst the Rhineland nobility, and fifteen manuscripts survived into the modern era. He called on many previous travel reports and other sources in addition to Breydenbach, amongst them John Mandeville (probably in Michael Velser’s translation), Marco Polo, and Odoric of Pordenone.
Image 5: Greeks in the pilgrimage account of Arnold von Harff (Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MS Bodl. 972, f. 53v. Photo: Mary Boyle, courtesy Bodleian Libraries.
Image 4: ‘Sarraceni lingua et littera’ (Saracen language and letters) in the pilgrimage account of Bernhard von Breydenbach (f.75r). Source: Münchener DigitalisierungsZentrum, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
With each step, changes in the copied sections were introduced. These could be omissions or additions, and some of these changes are simply the result of switching languages or dialects. On several occasions, the chain passed back out of print, but print was key to its spread. Breydenbach, for example, drew on the manuscript of Paul Walther von Guglingen, a fellow traveller, when describing the non-Christian inhabitants of the Holy Land, but for the visits to the holy places themselves, he chose Tucher’s published work rather than the manuscript account of his acquaintance – it mattered that he was conforming to an image already widely distributed.
Print, of course, was by no means the only reason for the conformity of pilgrim writing. What it did was make that conformity quicker and easier to spread, and easier to present to a wide audience. The works circulating in Europe upheld and broadcast the experience of the Franciscan package deal in Jerusalem.
The bibliographic remnants of medieval pilgrimage are often haphazardly or imprecisely catalogued; one can rarely rely on caalogues and handlists, without inspecting a book itself, to understand what the medieval source is. A good case in point is a book I recently inspected in the beautiful John Rylands Library, Manchester; from its record in the Index of Middle English Prose, I had thought that this manuscript (now Latin MS 228) might be a Jerusalem-bound pilgrim’s manuscript.
Latin MS 228 is a miscellany, and represents a very common kind of medieval manuscript, in which ‘useful information’ – legal documents, recipes, poetry, medical writing, and many other types of text – were gathered together. It is neither always apparent that a miscellany has an organising principle, nor is it often clear when the manuscript was organised. In the case of some manuscript miscellanies, their development seems to be organic, taking place over many years, and with many different owners adding – and deleting – contents, according to changes ideas of what was useful or desirable.
Latin MS 228 looks, on first sight, like it could be a pilgrim’s manuscript. It has a beautiful binding, dating from c. 1490-1525, in soft vellum. It would have been highly portable, and the back of the binding even has a flap in which to store loose leaves or other items. The binding is also important because it represents the moment at which someone put the book’s current contents together: that is, the moment of the book’s binding can reveal what was valued at that particular moment in time.
Rylands Latin MS 228: binding
Rylands Latin MS 228, showing storage flap in soft cover
Rylands Latin MS 228
Moreover, Latin MS 228 contains two texts that relate to pilgrimage to Jerusalem, one in Latin and one in Middle English.
The Latin text (ff. 43v-44r) is headed ‘Itinerarium terre sancta’. In fact, it contains a few notes on the distances from Rome to Naples, from Venice to the Holy Land, fromJaffa (‘Portiaff’) to Jerusalem, from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, from Bethlehem to the River Jordan, and from Jerusalem to ‘Monte Synay’, Mt Sinai, and the tomb of St Katherine there. Then follows some notes on the relics and indulgences of Rome, and some historical notes on Saladin and the history of Jerusalem. There’s no evidence from this short Latin text that it was used by an actual pilgrim.
The Middle English text reads:
The way from venice unto Jaffe. Fro Venice to Jaer [Zadar] CCl mille ffor the town of Jaer to Corslake [Corcula] ciiiixx x mil ffor Corslake to Ragosa [Dubrovnik] iiiixx mil ffro Ragosa to Curfu CCC mil ffrom Curfu to Modyn [Methoni] CCC myle Ffrom Modyn to Candy [Crete] CCC myle ffrom Candy to þe Rodes [Rhodes] CCC myle ffor Baffe [Paphos] to Jaffe [Jaffa] CCC myle ffor Jaffe to Rames [Ramla] x myle ffor Rames to Emax [Emmaus] xxv myle ffor Emax to Jerusalem xvi myle from Jherusalem to Fflome iordan [River Jordan] xxxti myle. Curfu standys in Cypris [Cyprus] and Albany standys in the tother syde within the torke. Summa milliarium de venecia usque Jherusalem et deinde usque fflome jordane ii milia ccc iiiixx I millaria.
The Middle English text is perhaps more likely to represent an actual journey undertaken, suggested by the late-medieval toponyms and its greater detail. The mileages given here are not the same as in the Latin text, and the two texts are written in different hands. At the end of the Middle English itinerary a charm has been added.
So was Rylands Latin MS 288 a pilgrim’s book? Sadly, it’s impossible to say. We don’t know who its medieval owners were; the book has been much reorganised; and the Middle English text is on a single leaf – the other pages it was originally with have been cut out. On the reverse of this leaf is a short Latin extract, in the same hand as the itinerary, with an excerpt from the political prophecy of ‘Sixtus of Ireland’ (which includes the prophecy that the cities of Jerusalem and Acre will be retaken by a Christian prince).
However, the miscellany as a whole suggests that the pilgrimage texts were valued by whoever brought the book together in its current binding probably in the fifteenth century. What else did this person value? From the contents of his miscellany, we can discern an interest in medicine, law, and history. Some of the texts include:
the fees and lands of the knights of Yorkshire
a Middle English prose treatise on how to ‘undrestand what thi dreme betokenes’ using the letters of the psalter (f. 60r)
the archers of each English shire, in French (f. 69r)
medical recipes, including one to reduce swelling of the testicles through applying a paste made of boiled mint and pigeon-droppings
several Middle English herbals, including a text on the uses of rosemary, which can ‘destroye all infirmites in manys body’ (f. 123v)
a recipe for ‘bragot’ (f. 137v), a drink of ale warmed with honey and herbs
a mass for ill cattle (f. 140r), which involves leading the animals into the barnyard, and having a priest with holy water say various gospel texts to the cattle as they turns their heads to the east.
As I am repeatedly discovering, it is very difficult securely to connect ‘pilgrims’ texts’ with actual pilgrimage or pilgrims. The journey to Jerusalem was clearly valued as a useful piece of information, something worth remembering, a mental route to return to over and over again, whether or not it had any practical application. We cannot say with any certainty that Rylands Latin MS 228 was ever used by a pilgrim; but we can be confident that the route to Jaffa and Jerusalem was on the mind of the book’s owner(s) in the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century.
The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in the Old City of Jerusalem is one of the most important resources for understanding the religious history of the Holy Land: in the Patriarchal Library are gathered the ancient manuscript treasures of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and several other monasteries in the region.
The Library’s main holdings comprise the Greek manuscripts previously held at Mar Saba near Bethlehem and the unique Greek and Georgian manuscript holdings of the Monastery of the Holy Cross (a Georgian foundation which is now a Greek house) in west Jerusalem.
In my work tracing the manuscripts held at the now-vanished medieval Franciscan monastery at Mount Zion, I had wondered if any pilgrims’ books might have found their way to a Greek monastery in the region. I was thus intrigued to find that amongst the Patriarchal Library’s holdings – which are overwhelmingly Greek and Georgian in origin – there is one Latin manuscript: MS Taphou 27.
Thanks to the assistance of Archbishop Aristarchos of Constantina, I was recently able to examine MS Taphou 27, to see if the book could be more securely associated with its medieval owners. What follows is very much a preliminary account of the manuscript, a starting-point for plotting the biography of a manuscript that seems to be ‘out of place’.
Taphou 27 is a copy of Eutropius, a Classical chronicle dealing with Roman history. It was a very widely-read work, in both humanist circles and as a school text-book. Taphou 27 dates from the later fifteenth century, and includes some exceptionally beautiful illustrations and fine decorated lettering. The manuscript was almost certainly made in Italy, perhaps in Milan or Naples. It has a post-medieval binding, apparently British of c. 1800, and some of the book’s folios have been clipped.
There are a few clues in the book about its history and its journey from Italy to Jerusalem and the Greek Patriarchate. First, on the book’s first folio, are two Greek inscriptions, in different hands. The first, hard to decipher, suggests that the book was at Constantinople, at the Metochion of the Holy Sepulchre, by the year 1677. The second says that the book comes from “the belongings of Panayotis…which are useful to him” – it’s not clear exactly who or what this refers to. Over the coming months I hope to explore the possible meanings of these inscriptions with members of the Pilgrim Libraries project who are more familiar with Greek materials.
As Christopher Wright has shown, the manuscript was part of a large number of ancient books that were taken from the Ottoman empire to England, c. 1801, by Joseph Dacre Carlyle, Professor of Arabic at Cambridge, via the British embassy in Constantinople. Carlyle certainly took at least six books from Mar Saba, as a surviving receipt shows (now The National Archives, FO 78/81, f. 56r), and a number of manuscripts from the Metochion, lent by the Patriarch of Jerusalem Anthimos, who at that time resided in Constantinople. The manuscript passed to Carlyle’s sister Maria in 1804, and she retained it as a memento, having given the bulk of her brother’s collection to Lambeth Palace Library. The manuscript was returned by Maria Carlyle to the Greek Patriarchate around 1813, via the Patriarch Polycarpus. A Greek note on the front of MS Taphou 27 confirms the return of the book from England.
An important though previously overlooked aspect of MS Taphou 27 is that it contains the name of its scribe. On f. 138v, the final folio of the text, the scribe has written in his beautiful humanistic hand
I A C O B U S Laurentianus scripsit.
This Iacobus Laurentianus was the scribe of the whole volume. Laurentianus is by no means an unknown scribe: on the contrary, he was evidently a prestigious and highly-productive scribe in late fifteenth-century Italy, his work including commissions for the Aragonese court in Naples and the Sforza family in Milan. My preliminary research shows that a group of surviving Laurentianus manuscripts can be traced, now in collections around the world (given in a working hand-list below).
MS Taphou 27 can therefore be added to the known works written by Jacobus Laurentianus. It is not clear from the book however if it was written to commission – in my inspection of the book, I did not see any heraldic devices or similar evidence that would point to a medieval patron. As W. S. Monroe has shown, Laurentianus’ manuscripts were sometimes copied from printed texts, and MS Taphou 27 was likely copied from the printed edition of Eutropius (Rome, 1471); Laurentianus copied another manuscript of this text, now in the Escorial in Madrid.
This still doesn’t get us any closer to establishing how the book got from Italy to the Middle East, although the Greek inscriptions suggest that it was there by the mid-seventeenth century. The library of the Dukes of Aragon, based at Naples, shows that it held three books by Jacobus Laurentianus, including the copy of Eutropius, now in the Escorial, dedicated to Ferdinand/Ferrando of Aragon and, as Tammaro de Marinis shows, written at some point between 1471 and 1480. The Jerusalem manuscript is therefore almost certainly closely connected to this prestigious commission, although as I have not yet inspected the Escorial manuscript I cannot be sure of the relationship between the two. The Aragonese library at Naples was broken up in the later fifteenth century.
I am not at present in a position to make any firmer or larger conclusions about the book’s history but it is clear that Taphou 27 presents an intriguing piece of evidence in our attempts to understand the movement of books in the late medieval and early modern Eastern Mediterranean.
A provisional hand-list of manuscripts written by the scribe Jacobus Laurentianus
Florence, Biblioteca Marucelliana MS ACB.IX.83
Florence, Biblioteca Riccardiana MS 1569.s.15 (“Iacobus de s. Laurentio”)
Jerusalem, Greek Orthodox Patriarchal Library MS Taphou 27
Madrid, Escorial MS H.II.2; produced for the Aragonese court at Naples
Naples, Biblioteca Nazionale di Napoli MS XI.AA.51
Naples, Biblioteca Nazionale di Napoli MS XIII.C.76
I would like to thank the following for the help in drafting this blogpost: William S. Monroe, Marina Tompouri, Kostya Tsolakis, Nickiphoros Tsougarakis, and Archbishop Aristarchos of Constantina, Elder Secretary-General of the Greek Patriarchate, Jerusalem.
When did the Presbyter Jachintus make his pilgrimage to the holy places? We have in hand only one page of an only copy of the text he wrote to recount his visit, and it is of little use in answering this question. The surviving fragment holds only a description of Bethlehem, a mention of Rachel’s Tomb and part of a description of the Holy Sepulchre. This is a great pity, as the traveler had a sharp eye and was more interested in architectonic elements than any other known traveler of the Early Middle Ages. Deeply impressed by the monuments he had seen, the Presbyter Jachintus penned the only Holy Land itinerary from Iberia we possess after Egeria’s letter in the late fourth century.
Jachintus’ fragment, written in a Latin that reveals constructions close to Romance languages, was discovered by Zacarías García Villada in the library of the Cathedral of León. García Villada dated the fragment, after its paleographical data, to the tenth century. The date of the pilgrimage is more difficult to establish. At the beginning of his narration, Jachintus writes that the city of Bethlehem is destroyed (Civitatem Bethlem destructa est). García Villada, followed by Wilkinson in his translation of the text (Jerusalem Pilgrims before the Crusades, 1972, pp. 11, 123, 205), took this detail as key for dating it. García Villada believed that the destruction was caused either by the Persian or by the Muslim conquest (614, 637) and thus placed the visit sometime between the seventh and the tenth centuries. Wilkinson connected the destruction to an earthquake, perhaps the one that occurred in 746, and thus dated the pilgrimage to the eighth century. Both suggestions are problematic. It is well known that the Holy Land churches were rehabilitated soon after the Persian sack and that the Muslim conquest was not violent. As for the 746 earthquake, Theophanes writes that it caused destruction mainly in the Judean Desert, and Agapius mentions Tiberias, but none relate to Bethlehem in particular.
While these earlier works take Bethlehem as a guide, a new dating was suggested after the Holy Sepulchre description. Martin Biddle (1994, 1999) has argued that Jachintus is clearly describing the aedicule of the Holy Sepulchre as rebuilt in the eleventh century, in the course of the renovations following the destruction caused in 1009 by the Fatimid caliph Al-Hakim. The aedicule remained in this form for centuries, but its precise date of construction is unknown. It had to have been built before 1047, however, when the Persian traveler Naser-e Khosraw wrote about it in its new form.
Biddle recruits Jachintus to solve the problem. He suggests that Jachintus visited the church in the eleventh century, after the building of the aedicule, and that the León manuscript was copied later in that century. Following this notion, in his new edition of his Jerusalem Pilgrims before the Crusades (2002), Wilkinson changed the dating of the text to the eleventh century. Biddle’s suggestion is based on a single sentence at the end of the fragment, describing three windows (fenestre tres) on which the mass is celebrated. Biddle claims that these fenestre are the three windows in the marble covering the tomb, described by the Russian monk Daniel in 1106-1108, and thus exhibit the aedicule as constructed in the eleventh century. Nevertheless, as Biddle himself notes, the reference to the three fenestre comes at the end of the description of the aedicule, after the roof, and thus is out of sequence. If the three windows are indeed those known from Daniel’s treatise, they ought to have been mentioned within the aedicule and not in its exterior. As such, it is hard to know exactly what Jachintus is discussing. The dating of the text thus remains an open question.
Catedral de León, Codex 14, fol. 5.
Zacarías García Villada, “Descripiones desconocidas de Tierra Santa en códices españoles”, Estudios Eclesiásticos 4 (1925), pp. 322-324.
Julio Campos, “Otro Texto de Latin Medieval Hispano: El Presbítero Iachintus”, Helmantica: Revista de filología clásica y hebrea 8 (1957), pp. 77-89.
John Wilkinson, Jerusalem Pilgrims before the Crusades (Jerusalem, 1978), pp. 11, 123, 205; John Wilkinson, Jerusalem Pilgrims before the Crusades (Warminster, 2002), pp. iii, 27, 404.
Martin Biddle, “The Tomb of Christ: Sources, Methods and a New Approach” in Churches Built in Ancient Times: Recent Studies in Early Christian Archaeology, ed. Kenneth Painter. Series: Occasional Papers from the Society of Antiquaries of London, 16 (London, 1994), pp. 73-147, at p. 140, n. 14; See pp. 106-8.
Martin Biddle, The Tomb of Christ (Stroud, 1999), pp. 85-88, 152, n. 61, 153, n. 68.
The medieval pilgrimage guidebook of William Brewyn of Canterbury.
In the library at Canterbury Cathedral there is a small vellum volume dating from the later fifteenth century: a guidebook for pilgrims to Rome (now Canterbury, Cathedral Library & Archives, Add. MS 68). It is, plausibly, a book made both for travellers and for travelling – its small dimensions (the size of a paperback, 14cm high and 9.8cm wide) and its contents (almost all of which are concerned with pilgrimage, relics, and travel) suggest as much. This little book has long been thought to be the personal pilgrimage guidebook of William Brewyn of Canterbury, whose name appears at several points throughout the book. Parts of Brewyn’s book were edited and translated in 1933 by the Kent historian C. Eveleigh Woodruff; most modern scholars who have mentioned Brewyn have relied on Woodruff’s incomplete and inaccurate edition, so I took the train to Canterbury to spend the day with the manuscript itself.
Almost nothing secure is known about Brewyn, other than what he tells us about himself in this manuscript. Brewyn evidently spent a great deal of time in Rome in the 1460s, and was at Canterbury in 1470. Brewyn’s name appears in the text, for example at the end of his account of the Church of S. Cecilia in Trastevere: ‘Deo gracias quod Willelmo. Brewyn capellano’ (f. 37v): ‘Thanks be to God, says William Brewyn, chaplain.’ He says that he was personally present at Pope Paul II’s excommunication of various reprobates which took place at the door of St Peter’s at Easter 1469 (‘Michi Willelmo Brewyn Capellano tunc temporis ibi existenti et audienti’); he goes on to say that he copied the excommunication himself from the bull that the pope hung on the door (ff. 38v-40v). The miraculous gilded pine-cone from the Pantheon, which the devil sought to hurl at the Vatican, ‘can still be seen to this day’ (f. 21v), says Brewyn, in the courtyard at St Peter’s. At some points in the manuscript, the text does indeed read as if Brewyn is locating himself, devotionally, at each site he describes; for instance, at the end of his account of the church of S. Maria in Trastevere he writes ‘Jhesus miserere mei’ – ‘Jesus have mercy upon me’ (f. 37v). The perspective, voice, and soul of the individual pilgrim seem to be present.
The eye-witness status of Brewyn’s book is suggested more compellingly by his itinerary from Calais to Rome (f. 40r). Here, Brewyn’s annotations certainly suggest not only a local familiarity with the route but also ongoing process of editing and correcting. At the German town of Bonn, Brewyn mixes Latin and English to say that ‘ibi fals shrewys summe’ (f. 40v), with another tart comment added above: ‘nisi meliorantur’: ‘unless they have improved’. At ‘Ulmys’ (Ulm) it pays to show one’s tonsure (‘monstra coronoam capitis pro tributo’) to evade the tax. At Memmingen, a comment has been added in the top margin (f. 41r) that the road is said to be fairly good, but further on the mountains begin (‘incipient montes’). In a list of currency exchanges, Brewyn’s authorial ‘I’ appears: ‘Ego Willelmus Brewyn capellanus’ (f. 42v), who got 2 Roman ducats for 9 English shillings.
Intriguingly, the index to Brewyn’s book includes an itinerary of Jerusalem and the Holy Land (f. 4r). Here, Brewyn writes that he will describe the pilgrimages to be made in Nazareth, Jerusalem, the Holy Sepulchre, Mount Zion, Acheldama, the Valley of Jehosophat, the Temple, Bethlehem, Bethany, the River Jordan, Jericho, Mount Quarantine, ‘Galgala’, Cairo (‘Kaer’), Alexandria, Caesarea in Palestine, Acre (‘Acra’), Tiberias (‘Tybiriadis’), Arabia, Tyre, Sidon, and Beirut (‘Baruta’). In addition, he says he will include the names of the stations of Jerusalem in English for those who wish to visit and gain the indulgences. He describes how he had read about the pilgrimage sites and indulgences in the Holy Land ut inveni in rotula – that is, found them on a scroll (f. 4r) – and there’s no evidence, or even suggestion, that he made it to Jerusalem himself.
Indeed, the places he mentions in his table of contents – including Acre, Tiberias, Beirut, Sidon, Tyre – would have been difficult to reach for a clerical traveller in the 1460s and ‘70s and suggest an inherited itinerary from an earlier book – such as Mandeville’s Travels – rather than an eye-witness account. Galgala, or Gilgal, appears in several written itineraries but was not a late medieval pilgrimage site of any status, but rather a town near Jericho mentioned in the Book of Joshua.
The pages relating to the Holy Land have been excised from the book – there are stubs where the folios have been removed (after f. 39 and after f. 94). Perhaps this speaks to Brewyn’s own assertion of the primacy of pilgrimage to Rome over that to Jerusalem: ‘if people only knew how great are the indulgences at the Lateran church, they wouldn’t think it necessary to go overseas (‘de ultra mare’) to the Holy Sepulchre’ (f. 16r). It also seems that some of the things Brewyn included in his account of Rome are also places he hadn’t seen himself: in an account of ‘snow balls’ (pilae nivis) on the walls on what was on the entry into Rome, Brewyn says ‘satis credo’, so I believe, or I believe well enough (f. 35r); at the Church of St Laurence outside the Walls in Rome are ‘plures alie quas nestio notiarum’ – ‘many other things I am unable to name’ (f. 35v).
Brewyn’s book seems to be both a record of travel and of reading; it is at once a personal record of a journey made and a guide for others yet to make their journey. Large sections of Brewyn’s book are taken from key texts, especially saints’ lives from Jacobus de Voragine’s Legenda aurea (ff. 58r-94r) and geographical notes from Ranulph Higden’s Polychronicon (ff. 44r-49r), both of them widely-read and much-cited authorities. To be a traveller was not only to take to the road, but also to read and cite the correct authorities, and accordingly to order one’s experience of the world around an established body of textual knowledge.
 C. Eveleigh Woodruff (ed. and trans.), A XVth. Century guide book to the principal churches of Rome compiled ca. 1470 by William Brewyn (London: The Marshall Press, 1933).
Blog-post author, Dr Merav Mack, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, IL.
Some reflections following a visit in December 2016 to the exhibition “Jerusalem 1000-1400: Every People Under Heaven” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA (26 September 2016– 8 January 2017).
“What is Jerusalem? Or where is Jerusalem?” are the opening words of art critic Jason Farago when reviewing the exhibition: “The real city and its eternal image bleed into each other“ he explains. Suitably, he entitled his article Jerusalem Rebuilt in New York’s Green and Pleasant Land.
The exhibition is overwhelming in its scale and achievement, a project that takes place once in a life time. Over a period of several years the curators painstakingly selected and assembled in New York a great number of items, borrowed from all Jerusalem’s communities, and thus telling a story of cultural richness; a history of multiple narratives, told from as many angles as possible.
When I entered the exhibition hall I found the iconic images of Jerusalem displayed all around. Photographs of the Dome of the Rock projected on great screens. There were no modern maps to guide the visitors to the city or its various parts. I couldn’t help thinking that this was intentional as the subject of the exhibition was not just the physical city but its image.
The thousand-year-old question resurfaces; what matters more, Earthly Jerusalem or Heavenly Jerusalem. The eschatological city of the end of days and the temporal city are blurred in the Jerusalem Exhibition. While the city is represented with numerous archaeological artefacts, books, maps and images, many are fantastic and have little to do with the real city.
As I walked through the exhibition I wondered how many thousands of people made their pilgrimage to Jerusalem through the Met in New York City. Complementing our discussions in London I thought that a visit to the museum’s exhibition is a little bit like the medieval, arm-chair pilgrimage.
The first room of the exhibition was dedicated almost exactly to our subject, the travellers to Jerusalem: “The Pulse of Trade and Tourism”. The focus of the room instead of crusade, repentance, pilgrimage or devotion was merchants’ travels, their monies, commodities and souvenirs, as well as a few maps and charts. A recently discovered hoard of golden coins from Caesarea stood right the entrance.
Matthew Paris, Marino Sanudo and William of Tyre are the three wonderful manuscripts selected for this room, as well as a traveller map in Arabic, with no distinction between real travellers and armchair ones (e.g. Matthew Paris). In another room I found the beautiful bird’s eye-view of Jerusalem by Bernhard von Breydenbach (The Metropolitan Museum, 19.49.3), next to a Muslim pilgrimage certificate from the year 1433, combining Persian inscriptions and iconographical representation of the holy sites. A beautiful pictorial circular maps of Jerusalem was included – this copy from the Hague manuscript of the Gesta Francorum is probably the most famous among them.
In the catalogue (but sadly not at the exhibition) was the image from Liber peregrinationis by Riccoldo da Monte Croce (BNF MS Fr. 2810) of pilgrims at the (imagined) Holy Sepulchre.
The catalogue’s articles, like the exhibition, focused primarily on souvenirs and relics, tourist experience and the material aspect of their journey – specifically on items the travellers brought back home. The question of what knowledge pilgrims brought with them (in the form of books, drawings or maps), what libraries they encountered along the way and what they acquired in the East remain for us to explore.
The second hall focused on The Diversity of Peoples and included a large number of manuscripts, “a little unusual for a Met exhibition”, remarked one critic. Visitors queued to look and study the manuscripts carefully. I found this room particularly inspiring.
The emphasis of this hall (and the exhibition as a whole) is the richness of Jerusalem’s population, its languages and traditions. Here I found manuscripts that learned travellers could have found in medieval Jerusalem at one point or another (if allowed into the monasteries were they were kept, and if indeed they possessed knowledge of the locally spoken and written languages).
Karaites and Rabbinical Jewish manuscripts, Samaritan, Georgian, Syriac, Greek and Arabic, alongside manuscripts in Ge’ez and Armenian. Copies of the Gospels and the Qur’an were included as well as non-religious texts.
Let me conclude by listing these items, which may be of particular interest to visitors to this blog.
Georgian Menologion – written by the founder of the Holy Cross George Prokhorus 1038-1040 at the monastery of the Holy Cross. Before founding the monastery he was a monk at the Great Laura of Mar Saba. (Bodleian Library).
Four Gospels from Mar Saba (Princeton).
Syriac Breviary from St Mary Magdalene & St Simon the Pharisee, 1138 Jerusalem.
Armenian canon tables written after 1187 with a scribe’s note of his sadness of the fall of J-m to Saladin and prayer for its recovery. (Walters Art Museum).
Latin and mixed communities
Missal of the Holy Sepulchre ca. 1135-1140 (BNF, Paris), with a mixture of Latin and Armenian pagination, demonstrating cooperation between a Frankish calligrapher and an Armenian-speaking illuminator.
Karaite and Rabbinical manuscripts in Jerusalem before the crusades
After the bloody conquest of Jerusalem in 1099 Jewish survivors were ransomed and exiled to Ascalon then Cairo (Fustat). Manuscripts were ransomed too, including the famous Aleppo Codex.
A page from the Aleppo Codex.
Daniel al-Qumisi, Commentary on Psalms (late 9th, early 10th century). JTS New York. Cat. 36a, p. 94. Hebrew.
Abraham al-Basir – Responsa, 11th century. Arabic. JTS (MS 3448).
Yefet ben ‘Ali translation and commentary (10th century). A prolific writer, translator (Hebrew to Arabic) and biblical commentator, his manuscripts were copied numerous times.
Jewish travelers in the Middle Ages
Maimonides Plan of the Temple (Bodleian, MS Poc. 295).
Letter requesting funds to ransom captives (JTS MS 8254).
Yehuda Halevi (JTS).
Al-Ghazali’s Ihya (Revival of the Islamic Sciences) from the museum of Islamic art in Doha (this copy was not copied in Jm). Cat. No. 43, p. 100.
Al-Busiri’s Qasidat al-Burda (Ode to the Mantle) copied in Jerusalem by a Persian calligrapher Muhammad al-Fruzabadi al-Shirazi in 1361. He lived and taught in Jeruusalem between 1358 and 1368. (NLI Yah. Ar. 784).
A few copies of the Qur’an were included in the exhibition. One by Muhammad ibn al-Bulaybil al-Hijazi was copied in Jerusalem in 1390 (British Library).
Nur al-Din’s qur’an: a beautiful copy whose pages can found in various museums. The Met had 2 pages from Dallas (Dallas Museum of Art – ex. Keir collection VII 3 and 4).
Professor Anthony Bale shared a strong vision for our joint project on Medieval Pilgrims Libraries when we met in London December 9-10, 2016. We’re all grateful for his leadership and helpful push in new directions and especially for bringing together researchers from such diverse fields. Here are some reflections based on our initial conversations.
Many medieval pilgrims belonged to lively lectoral communities. They carried their libraries with them on their way to Jerusalem, Rome or Santiago even when there were no books at hand. Memories of books read before leaving home were fondly rehearsed aloud among bands of sacred sojourners, texts that scripted the experience even while walking and sailing to distant shores. Some deliberately bade farewell to their books for a while as a personal discipline or as part of the acetic rigor of the trip, somewhat like foregoing bathing or haircuts. At opportune stops along the way they may have read or listened to the recitations of unfamiliar writings, purchased souvenir texts, or either made or commissioned copies of admired works to take home. Not a few pilgrims eventually composed their own travelogues as itineraries, diaries and guidebooks for subsequent travelers.
Complementing those who enjoyed full agency as readers – the ones who were personally literate – almost all pilgrims participated in ever rotating communities of secondary literacy. Many who could not read for themselves because of lack of education or failing eyesight listened to texts being read aloud and participated in their interpretation. Throughout Antiquity and the Middle Ages almost all reading was done aloud and routinely by young adults whose eyes were better suited for the task. Pilgrims probably carried few books with them and in any case one literate reader among any given travelers’ band would be enough.
Most importantly there was the internal library shared equally among the literate and illiterate, the vast oral stream they all grew up with. Medieval sojourners carried a rich imaginary of their journey spun out of their memory hoard stocked by prior reading plus all their accustomed folk genres as they moved through their newly fluid discursive landscape. Some of their more pious texts they accessed “from within”: a common stock of Latin prayers and rituals, hymnody in Latin reliably re-encountered at hosting institutions, and vernacular devotional songs learned by heart back home and happily belted out along the trail or on arrival. To lift their spirits and anticipate possible spiritual adventures there was the reverent recounting of hagiography and miracle stories associated with the shrine sites they visited.
On the secular side were ballads and ordinary walking songs, and epic stories in prose or verse. Some medieval travelers had their recollections of itineraries or topographical plans, but even without them all had mental maps that constituted a “consensus cartography” that fused sites and anticipated encounters. When their accounts of physical geography seem defective, they are probably reporting a traveler’s topography of significance and holiness.
Much of their remaining common oral culture was plainly utilitarian: medical knowledge and techniques (as distinct from miraculous cures), guesstimates of diverse monetary exchange, knowledge of equivalents for local weights and measures, calculation of distances, seasons, climate, and folk tales and games to pass the time. Any of these could end up in written records but the bulk of it churned through the living oral stream, the cultural “soup” everyone swims in without recognizing one’s conceptual environment always known from within.
The accounts that most attract our attention now – what pilgrims who made it home again wrote down and left unsystematically among family papers and local archives – are their own compositions in the form of itineraries and daybooks. Most are middle brow, repetitive in their sequence of places and sights, and doggedly anonymous. This is probably not because generally poor writers took up the task. It would have been hard to actually compose anything serious while traveling in the Middle Ages. Toting reliable supplies of ink, quills and parchment or paper – much less wax tablets – is pretty much ruled out by the tiny satchels shown in most contemporary painting and sculpture.
Medieval travel accounts were likely put together after a return to a writerly environment and perhaps before the pilgrim company disbanded. For pilgrims returning from Jerusalem, the logic site would be on disembarking at Venice. A troop which had shared the journey could share the reminiscing and the most able scribe among them could stitch together what each individual agreed was true. That would help explain the depersonalized and often pedestrian accounts that come down to us. The stationers’ shops in Venice could also supply enough raw materials to make multiple copies for as many of the companions who wanted a set of reliable notes to embellish orally for family, friends and fellow parishioners. Producing a “corporate report” from a whole group of travelers usually makes for dull reading but would lend a certain weight and credence to the narrative.
Bands returning from Jerusalem enjoyed the advantage of a fairly stable party from start to finish, or at least from departure from Venice until their return there. Venice would have also marked a psychological “homecoming” even if individuals had started out from more distant parts of Christendom, and no other pilgrim node along the thousands of sacred routes in medieval Europe provided the same urban nexus of launch point, site of return and time to linger. There are points of convergence along the trails to Santiago (Ostabat and St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port on the eastern slopes of French Pyrenees) and to Rome (certain Alpine passes on the descent into Italy) but none in an urban center that invited potential writers to linger and compose. Of course, Rome was the most heavenly and best provisioned writers’ environment of all, but writers in residence on the Tiber did not routinely overlap with visiting pilgrims and they produce different sorts of works.
All these factors would have favored greater numbers of travelogues about the Holy Land, somewhat less so for Rome and relatively few for Santiago and other pilgrim shrines, and extant archival witnesses seem to corroborate this scenario.
Herbers, Klaus. “Peregrinaciones a Roma, Santiago y Jerusalén.” El mundo de las peregrinaciones. Roma, Santiago, Jerusalén. Ed. Paolo Caucci von Sauken. Barcelona/Madrid, 1999. 103-34. Subsection on “Relatos de los peregrinos en el medievo tardío,” 128-34]
Herbers, Klaus, y Robert Plötz. Caminaron a Santiago. Relatos de peregrinaciones al »fin del mundo«. Santiago de Compostela: Xunta de Galicia, 1998.
Howard, Donald R. Writers and Pilgrims. Medieval Pilgrimage Narratives and Their Posterity. Berkeley: U of California Press, 1980.
Plötz, Robert. “Santiago de Compostela en la literatura odepórica.” Santiago de Compostela: ciudad y peregrino. Actas del V Congreso Internacional de Estudios Xacobeos. Eds. María A, Antón Vilasánchez; José Luis Tato Castiñeira. Santiago de Compostela: Xunta de Galicia, 2000. 33-99. [on mapmaking and the concept of space]
Reynolds, Roger E. “A Precious Ancient Souvenir Given to the First Pilgrim to Santiago de Compostela.” Peregrinations: Journal of Medieval Art & Architecture 4.3 (Spring, 2014): 1-30.
Stones, Alison. “Medieval Pilgrimage Writing and its Manuscript Sources.” Encyclopedia of Medieval Pilgrimage, ed. L.J. Taylor, et al. Leiden: Brill, 395-413. [see bibliography 411-12 for list of travel narratives]
Stones, Alison, & Jeanne Krochalis. “Qui a lu le Guide du pèlerin ?” Pèlerinages et croisades. Ed. L. Pressouyre. Paris: CTHS, 1995. 11-36.
Linguistic anthropologists working in Chiapas, Mexico have observed how leaders of base Christian communities (comunidades de base) could be illiterate yet function as the most insightful and trusted commentators of scriptural and inspirational texts. (As reported by Vincent Barletta, now at Stanford, from field work in the 1990s during doctoral studies at UCLA. Personal communication.)
The phrase was coined by Mary Carruthers in her classic The Book of Memory. A Study of Memory in Medieval Culture (Cambridge, 1990).
The “Pilgrims Guide” in the Codex Calixtinus describes how various nationalities, clustered together in their respective corners of the tribune level of the cathedral in Santiago, would loudly compete as they sang hymns in their native tongues.
The earliest and one of the most intriguing prose epics about the adventures of Charlemagne and Roland in Spain is consecrated in the “Historia Turpini” of the Codex Calixtinus, the twelfth-century master compilation on the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. The connection to Charlemagne’s supposed devotion to St. James and the saint’s instructions to have the French secure the pilgrimage route against the Muslim foe is tenuous in the narrative, entirely fictional in terms of history.
Folk tales contain many stories about the intervention of saints on behalf of their devotees. A version of hopscotch became the pilgrim game of Juego de la Oca or Goose’s Game, a modern version of which has been laid in the paving outside the church of Santiago the Elder in Logroño along the main route to Compostela.
Anxiously sincere personal narratives of travel along the Camino de Santiago have repopulated this genre in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, most of them just as artless as their medieval forerunners if more heartfelt.